Monthly Archives: March 2010

Report Cards

Summer holidays are here! Luckily, this year the girls are in daycare, so I don’t have to tear my hair out wondering how to keep them busy for two whole months. It’s difficult enough on weekends! Daycare, in retrospect, has a wonderful addition to our lives. They have a good gang of friends, a group of 15 or so, and a nice set of care givers who seem to have no trouble keeping 15 kids under 5 busy and happy. Sometimes, when I leave office a few minutes early, I actually feel bad about pulling them out of daycare when they are having so much fun with all their friends!

On Thursday, we went to their school – leaving them at daycare – to pick up their report cards. Sad to say, report cards come in the shape of computer printouts nowadays. Our girls’ report cards were almost identical – they don’t know their number symbols yet (0-9), and they aren’t interest in writing. But, they’re great conversationalists. They have separate gangs and don’t stick to each other all the time – which was good to know – but they do mimic each other. So, if one is being naughty, the other will be too. And if one can be made to toe the line, the other follows automatically.

None of this was really surprising. What was surprising was to see the art work the kids had done. They had coloured butterflies, caterpillars, and fish – neatly, inside the lines, and even using different shades for eyes, wings, and fins! They had cut out and painted paper christmas trees and stockings. They had made flowers out of coloured paper and ice cream sticks. They had sprinkled glitter onto paper to make the curved shape of a snail’s shell!

Of course I have to say hats off to the teachers for having the patience and inclination to make 30-odd kids do these activities neatly and to completion; but… my kids can do all <em>that</em>!? Wow!? At home, they just scatter the crayons all over the house, tear up their drawing books, fight, and come crying for help! What magic do they wield at school to turn these undisciplined, unfocused balls of energy and frustration into budding artists!?

We also discovered in school that the girls do actually eat their snacks every day. This is surprising because they have insisted on taking bread and marmalade every day for the last three months! If I give them something different, even if it is roti and marmalade, it comes back uneaten. So I wondered if they were really eating their bread everyday, or what. Apparently they not only ate it, they finished it very quickly and then looked for more interesting stuff in their friends’ tiffin boxes. It had become such that one of their friends went home and told his mother everyday, “give more of this, Mrini and Tara will like it; don’t give that, Mrini and Tara don’t like it.” And of course, his doting mother did just that!

So – this manipulation and exploitation of the opposite sex starts at this tender age, does it!

And now there’s no more school for two months. When the girls go back in June, they will no longer be the “babies” of their class. And it’s just the other day that they started school!

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Wonderful Weekend

Since Amit left for a whirlwind trip to Calcutta on Saturday morning, it meant no tennis for me. It’s hard to see this as a good thing, but it did mean that I was done with our breakfast by 8 a.m. The kids ran off to get themselves dressed, while I had a leisurely cup of coffee. Around 9 a.m., all three of us trooped downstairs to clean my car. This should ideally be a weekly ritual, since we haven’t found someone to do the work for us here, but so far I’ve only done it once before. That was last weekend, so my car wasn’t too terribly dirty this weekend. The kids helped me with it, then went off to play while I finished it off. By 10 a.m. I was bathed and ready to start making a cake. Why? Just because. The girls, of course, “helped” me mix it, and by 11.30 it was done. Meanwhile, L had come and done her act, so the house was clean, dishes washed, and laundry sorted. Time to go out.

Out was only grocery shopping. Managing the girls in the shop was the usual chaos, but we got it done without too much bloodshed and tears. By 12.45 or so we were home and the girls went off to play together – without fighting! – while I got some cooking done. Lunch was a beautiful affair – I guess the kids were hungry, so they ate without any fuss and with some good conversation to boot. It might have helped that they’d been promised chocolate cake if they ate “properly”. By 2, I packed them off to bed. Of course they were chattering and playing together, so around 2.30 I put them in separate rooms and they promptly fell asleep. I used the afternoon hours to catch up on my least-hated chore: ironing. (I almost enjoy doing it. Weird, isn’t it?)

In the evening, we walked out and bought some fruit, then we went to the park behind our house where the girls played in the sandpit while I chatted on the phone. Got home, they guzzled their milk and gobbled some grapes, then S&amp;S came and we were all busy socialising till bedtime (9 p.m. for the kids, 1 a.m. for me!) The best part was that I was even well prepared for the evening – I had some crunchies, soft drinks, beer, cake and ice cream. All you could want, apart from the dinner, which was ordered in as usual and came terribly late, as usual. But at least they got the order straight!

Then on Sunday I finally undertook a very brave task, considering I was pitted one against two – I took out all the kids’ toys and ordered them to select the ones they would agree to throwing away (or giving away, since nothing is ever thrown away over here). At first they wanted to keep everything – of course – but I told them that if they didn’t get rid of at least five toys, they wouldn’t get two new ones. Luckily their math isn’t too good right now, so they didn’t argue that they should discard two old toys and get five new ones! Of course they wanted to play with everything I pulled out, even if it has not held any interest for them for the last eighteen months (yes, we still have many of those!)… but I got things under control, again without significant loss of blood or tears.

I’d wanted to leave home by 10 a.m. so we could hit the shop by 11, but we ended up leaving at 10.45 – a pretty standard delay if you’re leaving home with two kids on a Sunday morning and highly laudable, I think, if preceded by a toy-sorting-out exercise. I parked in Central, which, to my horror, cost 50 bucks! So then I had to shop there, to redeem the parking cost. Luckily I found Snakes and Ladders, which might do for the kids right now, though their counting isn’t quite what it should be (typically, it’s one, three, four, five, fourteen, lifteen, seventeen, twenty-one… ending in much giggling), and which gave me back the fifty bucks I’d spent on parking. Then we walked to (or rather, I dragged them to) Crossword, fielding about three hundred and seventeen questions of “where is it” on the way. First things first – a spinach and corn sandwich at Cafe Coffee Day, while Mrini sat like a young girl of 8 years of age at the table, waiting for her meal, and Tara squirmed around like a child of three. She did me proud, however, by throwing her paper plate, ketchup packet, and paper napkin in the dustbin, and some very deft handiwork was called for to prevent her from tossing Mrini’s china plate in the dustbin as well.

We went straight upstairs to the kids’ section. Me and the girls were equally delighted to discover that Crossword very thoughtfully provides a table for kids to sit and play at while parents shop. I have to say that finding games and activities for three-to-four-year-olds is really difficult! For the younger kids, there’s lots of stuff; and for 6+ and upwards, there are a whole lot of board games of various kinds; but for three and four years old, it’s mostly a range of jigsaw puzzles. The problem, of course, is that these kids can’t read – and mine can hardly even count – but they’ve already outgrown the building blocks and picture books and are rapidly outgrowing play dough too. Right now, practically the only thing that keeps them busy is drawing books. Given, of course, that you don’t want to buy any of the of battery-operated toys and that you don’t want them sitting in front of TV or the computer either.

I ended up buying them a sort of miniature basketball hoop – really, really miniature, about as high as my forearm I think. Then we all headed home, without a single meltdown and without even needing to visit the restroom once!

On Sunday evening Christina came and we spent a long time chatting, first with a million interruptions from the kids, then, after they went to bed, with interruptions only for bites of pizza. These evenings are always good for my soul.

Monday was the usual Monday mania. And then came Tuesday… an interrupted extension of the wonderful weekend, since it was a holiday. Amit was back and we took the kids to Monkey Maze. They had lots of fun, and we spent an hour just chatting, relaxing, and watching them from a safe distance. Then we went to Sue’s Food Place (what a name!) for lunch. The food was good, though we were all a little hungry at the end due to “Sue”s suggestion that the kids didn’t need a meal to themselves and could manage by sharing from us. Sue doesn’t know our kids too well – they ate all the chicken and all the garlic bread and we got the gravy and some greasy roti.

Our next stop was FabIndia, where we spent a cool 4k on clothes for all of us. Then, we drove around in the hot sun for a bit looking for the way to what looks – from a distance – like a very pretty little lake on our way home. It turned out, inevitably and disappointingly enough, to be a dirty little lake with the surroundings treated like a massive garbage dump and the shady areas used for shady dealings. But at least we found it.

Tuesday evening I took the kids to the park behind our house. In a tiny corner of the park, four swings and a zig-zag slide have been put up just a day or two ago. The kids were dying to try it out, but the area was so crowded and there was such a mad scramble between kids lining up for the slide that I looked safer to avoid the place. I took them to the “sand pit” instead. It is a large, squarish depression in the green grassy park that looks as though it might have been intended as some sort of dump. The ground is uneven – to put it mildly – and it has some coarse-grained “sand” (more like dirt) mixed with an equal proportion of pebbles and other bits of dirt. Since kids in general have a fatal attraction for anything like dirt, there were several kids there already, in spite of the newly-erected swings.

And that brought our interrupted extended weekend to a close. The evening was short and sweet, and then it was back to work again. But for several hours today, the happy feeling of a relaxed and pleasant weekend stayed with me.

Of course, a side-effect of all this shameless pursuit of pleasure was that none of the grocery shopping got done and we are now scrambling to get enough provisions in the house to provide the kids a decent lunch tomorrow. Well, you can never have it all, can you?

This Woman, Here

I was talking to Christina the other day about how I never go for so much as a movie with Amit, because I feel so guilty about “dumping” the kids with someone and going off for a movie.

The rationale is like this. My own mother was a stay-at-home mom. She worked as a teacher for a bit, but then her working hours coincided with our school timings, so that didn’t matter. Whenever we were home, she was home. And pretty soon, she stopped even that, and she never worked outside the house again. So in a sense, my “ideal” of parenting is a stay at home mom.

“Ideal” in quotes – because looking back, I’m not sure this was the best thing for my mother. And looking at myself over the last couple of years since I became a parent, I don’t think it would ever be something I could do for any longer than I already did. So stay-at-home mom is not a real possibility for me, and I’m not sure it is an ideal any more either.

However, it’s not so easy to get rid of norms established in one’s growing up years. Somewhere in the deep dark recesses of my mind is the stubborn conviction that a “good” mother stays at home with her kids <em>and likes it</em>. And from this stubborn conviction is born an unshakable guilt for being a self-serving mom who thinks she must – for the sake of everyone’s peace of mind – pursue a career that takes her away from home and kids for the best part of the day, every working day. Working, far from being a financial necessity or something I do for the sake of the family, is seen by me to be a selfish indulgence, something I do purely for my own self!

Now I’m confused. First, I work because I need to – purely from a personality perspective. I don’t take well to being idle, nor, really, to doing mundane household chores.
Second, I work to earn money.
Third – probably in this order – I work so that I am a role model to my kids, so that they grow up to a working mom and don’t believe that all dads work and all moms stay at home. So that they understand the dignity of work and the value of money.

Is this selfish? Do I need to see this as something I’m doing just for myself and therefore punish myself by never doing anything else for myself, like an occasional fun outing with husband and/or friends?

So yes, I have this nagging guilt and I think I better sort out this guilt and realize that my working is good for all of us in more ways than one and that I should just stop carrying this extra baggage around.

But, in discussing this with Chris – and here’s where friends make all the difference; if I hadn’t spoken about it to anyone, I might never have realized this – in discussing this, I realized, it’s not just about guilt and punishment. It’s also about what I <em>want</em> to do, and even more importantly, about who I want to be.

My sister used to be a school teacher in a school that had a lot of rich kids. What she often spoke about was how these rich kids come from families where nobody really has any time for them. So they throw money at their kids, and then go off and live their lives as though they owe nothing else to their kids. You know the sort – if you haven’t come across them, you’ve at least read of them or seen them on TV.

I don’t want to be that woman. I don’t want to be the mother who ensures her kids are well taken care of while she goes off and lives life as if she’d never had kids. I <em>don’t</em> want the carefree life I had before I had kids. I don’t want to leave my kids to friends, parents, in-laws, daycare, or maids, calling in every so often to check that all is well, while I immerse myself in work, fun, or anything else that keeps me away from home. I don’t want to give them every good thing that money can buy, and deny them the one good thing that money can’t buy.

On the other hand, I can’t be that other woman over there either – the one who cheerfully forgets all she ever was and all she ever did and all she ever wanted and becomes a mother to the end of all else. The one who so immerses herself in her children, her family and her household that after 20 years, there’s nothing left of the person she used to be. The one who ends up bitterly frustrated and resentful, because her children never live up to her expectations because she never realized that her expectations were for them to do all that she never could because she was too busy raising them.

What I want to be is this woman, here, who works, but doesn’t put it at the top of the priority list; who spends her free time with her family and enjoys it; who occasionally takes a couple of hours or a couple of days, or even a whole week or two to do something completely self-indulgent and does it without any sense of guilt. I want to be the one who achieves what is important and doesn’t fret about what isn’t and who makes the most of the evenings and weekends with the family without wishing to do a lot of other stuff that excludes them. Most of all, after all we went through to even get our kids in the first place, I don’t want to be the one who leaves the raising of her kids to other people. I want to be the one to know what’s going on in their lives – who didn’t come to school, who had a birthday, who got a star, who cried – I want to be the one they tell that stuff to. I want to be the one they talk to and learn from and ask questions to and turn to the moment they are upset. I want to be the mother – not all day long, true, but still not anything less than the mother.

Yes, I know – I want to find balance, that’s all.

That’s asking for the whole world on a platter, isn’t it? But then again… if you don’t ask…

Lunchtime Conversation

The girls are talking so wonderfully these past few months, it’s almost agonizing to think of all the things they say and to not be able to capture them. But here’s one example.

Mrini: I’m a strong girl. I’m stronger than you!
Me: And you’re bigger than me too!
Mrini: Yes! If I eat all my food, I’ll be big and strong!
Tara: And then I’ll wear a watch. And a bangle too. Like you.
Me: Ooookkkkay (scratching head, figuratively). But you’ll only get the bangle when you get married. (It’s the one that Bengali women wear when they get married.) Do you know what married means?
Tara: Yes, it means I’ll get a bangle, like you!
Me: Yes, but do you know whom I’m married to?
Mrini: To the bangle.
Me: No… see… who is my husband?
Mrini and Tara: Baba!
Me: Yes, and that means I’m married to Baba.
I named some other couples and checked their association of “husband” “wife” and “marriage”. They got it. Ok, now for the next step.
Me: Girls, when you grow up, whom do you want to get married to?
Tara: Me Mrini married.
Me: Mrini is your twin sister, you can’t get married to your twin sister. And she’s a girl. You have to get married to a boy, because you’re a girl.
Mrini: S Uncle!
Me: (trying to hide my amusement and shock) Oh, he’s already married, you have to get married to someone who’s not married yet.
Tara: Baba
(Incest!)
Me: No, Baba’s married to me. You have to find someone who is not married. (Preferrably. And in any case, not your dad, please. Forget about Freud.)
Mrini (getting the idea at last): B&amp;B
(Polyandry!)
Me: What, both of them?
Mrini nodded her head happily.
Me: Well, usually you get married to only one person at a time.
Mrini (decisively): Ok, B (the smaller twin).
Me: And you Tara?
Tara: (The other) B.

Hmmm… Pity that B&amp;B just left for distant lands and we have no idea when – if ever – we will see them again. 😦

This Won’t Last Long, I Suppose?

Me: Girls, we’re going to J’s birthday party today! Who do you think you’re going to meet there?
Tara: J!
Me: Yes, and who else?
Tara: B&amp;B? (Their twin boy friends who recently moved out of the country)
Me: No, B&amp;B have moved to a very far away place. You won’t see them for a long time. When you meet them next, you’ll be six years old!
Tara: I’ll be a big girl?
Me: Yes.
Tara: And B&amp;B will be big boys?
Me: Yes.
Tara: Yuckkkkkkkkkk!

Music Matters

Music has been an integral part of my life since I was very young. My mother and I started fiddling around with harmoniums, bamboo flutes and Spanish guitars before I was ten years old. We started picking out basic song tunes, and my mother taught first herself and then me to read music. Soon after I turned ten, I got my first violin and started music lessons that continued for six years.

Sadly, I play very sporadically now and in recent years – once or twice a week for a few months, and then not at all for months, even years at a stretch. It’s not enough to even maintain any kind of standard, let alone improve. But that’s another story.

I’d always thought that my babies would be exposed to music when they were in the womb. Well, we don’t have any idea whether that ever happened, and surely it would not have been my choice of music, but… they have the rest of their lives to catch up, so I’m not too worried about that. I don’t believe that you’re ever too young to enjoy music, but I also don’t believe that you’re ever too old to start listening to and appreciating music.

While the kids were home full time – and so was I – they got to listen to plenty of music, and none of it was of the nursery rhyme variety. As long as we had WorldSpace, they got a lot of Hindi oldies, in addition to the usual mix of pop/rock and a bit of Western Classical. Then school started and there was no time for anything else! And then! I got a car with a built-in music system. Oh, joy! At last I could have music while driving – and I certainly spent enough time driving to justify it, in those days of dropping and picking up the kids. Unfortunately, though, I didn’t have a 6-CD changer.

I started the kids with the Wombles – child-friendly music that adults could enjoy too. The kids loved it, and wanted it every time we were in the car! To avoid swapping discs all the time, I ended up listening to it even when they weren’t actually in the car with me. And I had to make a copy for Amit, otherwise they refused to go in his car because he didn’t have their favourite songs. In a few months, all four of us knew all the words of all the songs. That’s twenty one songs!

So then it was time for a change.

I ran through an album of Dev Anand and followed it up with an album of Kishore Kumar for a month or two. Then I got bored of Hindi Oldies and I switched back to a Pop/Rock CD.

As it happened, they had recently been gifted a frock that said “Vegas Rock and Roll” in big letters on the front, and the day one of them was wearing that frock for the first time, I happened to play Billy Joel’s “It’s Still Rock and Roll to me.” This coincidental match was too much for them – they were thrilled to bits and wanted that song every day for weeks. Soon I’d got them on to some of the Billy Joel songs that came before and after that. Mrini one day got into Amit’s car and said, “I want Pressure.” She also enjoys, “Doing it all for Leyna” and “I don’t want to be alone anymore,” while, “And so it goes” has become known as “Baba’s song” because they hear Amit singing it so often.

One day I was tripping on Doors (Light My Fire) while driving to work after dropping the kids in school. So it was still on Doors when I went to pick them up in the evening. Mrini listened for about 30 seconds, then said, “Mama, I don’t like this, it’s too noisy.” Whaaaaa!? So Billy Joel is ok, Pressure is good, but Doors is too noisy!?

Next, I have to re-introduce them to Western Classical music. They’d listened to a bit of it when they were too young to have an opinion – or at least too young to express it – but not much since then. Whatever little they have heard recently has bored them – and I can’t really blame them, since I listen to mostly “instrumental” music, not so much the songs. Now I’m wondering, should I try some Mozart operas on them? Don Giovanni? The Magic Flute? Or how about Handel’s Messaiah – is that too heavy? We have a long drive to Mysore coming up, that should be a good time to throw something new at them. Any suggestions, anyone?